Here comes Father’s Day , just 3 weeks away also , our youngest,Shane’s 12th birthday is just 8 days off too. So I plugged into the aura of those annual milestones, creating a reasonable case for booking East. Finding the ultimate, friendly airfare only further committed me to our goal. Game 7 of the Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Rangers Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals at the fabled Madison Square Garden in NYC!
The Background —
I grew up exactly 24 miles from that very spot. Irvington-on-Hudson. Home of the illustrious author of Americana, Washington Irving, who quill-penned such classics as “‘The Legend of Sleepy Hallow”. Ol Wash-Irv would be proud of how his town has matured. A bedroom community boasting of the best of both worlds. Sleepy suburban NYC hamlet but, just a forty minute drive from anything and everything you could imagine. To the surprise of many, Manhattan Island has evolved into quite a rich and robust hockey haven. It was that aura of the Big Apple that first took a bite out of me. I would often tempt fate (more like defy death according to my mom) by plugging my electric radio into the wall plugs right near our kids bathtub, taking the longest hot bathes in ‘kid-dom’. I can still hear Marv Albert calling a “Stemmer” (Pete Stemkowski) goal. And so my love for the NYR was born and flourished. FF to 1994, on my honeymoon, our wedding night no less, at the Disney World Hotel we used as our staging stop-from wedding to DW hotel then, the next morning, we would jet down to Jamaica to begin the business end of our honeymoon. Our wedding night, as we soaked up the first feelings of marital bliss, in a quiet moment, I gazed into Susanne’s eyes and popped the question. “Want to watch something on TV? You know ( I just couldn’t go THERE, couldn’t ask about game 3 of the Rangers/Canucks) like a movie or something?” It was killing me not to just blurt out “gotta dial up the ‘Gers, don’t we?” Then, in one of the defining and enduring moments of our marriage , Sussy went where I would’t dare go. “No way, isn’t Game 3 on?”
That was 1994. The Rangers beat the Canucks in 7 games to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Gotham for the first time in 54 years. It hasn’t returned since. First time my ‘Gers even played for the Cup was last season’s run to the final where SLC’s Trevor Lewis helped his LA Kings win their 2nd Stanley Cup in 3 years. I met Trevor when I had to privilege of spending part of his day with the Cup, with him and his Cup friend. I arranged to give Lewis and Lord Stanley’s Cup a ride in a helicopter then wing them both around Rice-Eccles Stadium at halftime of a Utah Football game. So again FF to last Thursday when Trevor joined me on “TK in the Midday” I asked him if I should go to the Rangers/Lightning Game 7. “You gotta go!” is all he needed to say. One hockey nut to another.
I was hoping to bring both of my boys. We’d been heart broken a few years back when we flew East to see the Rangers and NJ Devils in a playoff game, Devils jumped up 3-0, Rangers rallied to tie it but the Devils scored just a few minutes later to win it and later eliminated the Rangers. As it turned out, when the Rangers crushed the Lightning in Tampa last Tuesday night, it set up one of those iconic Game 7’s. That’s when I started planning our “Voyage to 7!” 16 year old Tristan couldn’t make it. One of those bothersome yet real academic roadblocks. An important Friday near the end of the term. Soon-to-be 12 years old Shane had no such weighty issues, it’s just a half-day and he’s all caught up with his work. “Boo-yah, we’re goin!”
It was an absolutely ‘postcard perfect’ day in Manhattan last Friday. We flew in on the redeye so needless to say Shane and I were a bit tired. After a breakfast across the street from Madison Square Garden, we wandered around the block that holds the ‘most famous arena in the world’. It was like a dream. People everywhere wearing something Rangers, we dropped a couple of hundred bucks on fresh gear, then went back to our perfectly placed hotel, just 8 blocks from MSG. We napped, ordered a pizza and salad, showered and it was gametime. I purposely avoided detailing my search for the best tickets ‘too much money could buy’. After advising Shane that, were I his financial advisor, I would advise him NOT to pay that much money for a ticket without knowing the outcome would be a Rangers win. Course that was the cost of doing Stanley Cup business in NYC. That’s where Fathers Day and Shane’s birthday come into the story. Obviously those two iconic occasions, raised the roof on my ceiling for cost-containment on this Father-Son Bonding Journey.
All the stats lined up like stars in my own personal galaxy of the perfect storm. Rangers 15-3 in their last 18 elimination games, the biggest difference in this series, I believed to be Rangers Goalie Henrik Lundqvist known throughout the hockey speaking world as simply “The King” had regal stats too. Like a perfect 10-0 in elimination games at MSG and a decent 6-1 in Game 7’s, giving up just 6 goals. See what I mean?? Success all but assured yet what kept gnawing away at my inner soul? The buzzword for these wild n crazy Game 7’s. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
The seats for our FSBJ were awesome, the atmosphere appropriately loud n rowdy and stayed that way through 2 scoreless periods. Until the bad guys, wearing the international color of surrender, white! Turned out lives upside down by slipping an innocent, half-strength backhander, though a maze of legs, turned out to be a perfect screen. Despite “seeing the puck really clearly all night” The King never saw the puck as it slide right through his legs. Dead quiet, Lightning strikes. 1-0 but there’s just no jump in the Rangers offense this night. Back to the stats that kill. ‘Gers scored 17 g’s in the Lightning’s barn in this series but just 4 goals on their home ice at Madison Square Garden. Included in those weak-ass numbers at home, shutout twice in pivotal Games 5 and 7. Stanley Cup Playoffs rookie G Ben Bishop becomes the first keeper in Stanley Cup history to record shutouts in two Game 7’s in the same year. Wait, isn’t the King far more important a piece than a Bishop?? Oh, right…this ain’t chess!
My son Shane’s not only a great and seasoned traveler but also a decent loser. As the seconds on the Rangers season ticked down, we realized for the second time, we’d come back East just to see a Rangers playoff game, and they’d lost, again! So as we soberly, somberly eased our way out of the Garden, we were left to wonder what happened and utter that familiar refrain of the lost. “It’s on to next year” and quickly, deftly and caught up in the emotion of the moment, ponder all the off-season moves needed to get better… just as we hit 7th Avenue. Then, as we made our way back to our hotel but still in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, we hear homeless men arguing, Shane turns just in time to see a one punch knockout.
I wish he hadn’t had to witness that but that’s life in the big city. Not good when the most exciting thing you see on Game 7 night in NYC is a hobo KO.
Still, it’s a 24 hours neither of us will ever forget. Creating a deeper bond that neither of us fully comprehends right now. Trending words like “Game 7” and “Rangers” take on new meaning. Defining anew the crazy limits some will go to show love of their team, and of their Dad, and of their Sons.